Wednesday, August 5, 1863

CAMP ON BIG BLACK RIVER

Lieutenant Colonel John A. RAWLINS, 
Asst. Adjt. General, Dept. of the Tennessee, Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI:

SIR:
I have the honor herewith to transmit for the action of the general-in-chief the proceedings of a general court martial in the case of Private James O. Tebow, Sergeant Henry Blanck, and Captain William B. Keeler, of Company A, Thirty-FIFTH Iowa. These constitute one case, all involving the burning of a cotton-gin during our march from Jackson back to our camps on Big Black.

The amount of burning, stealing, and plundering done by our army makes me ashamed of it. I would quit the service if I could, because I fear that we are drifting to the worst sort of vandalism. I have endeavored to repress this class of crime, but you know how difficult it is to fix the guilt among the great mass of an army. In this case I caught the man in the act. He is acquitted because his superior officer ordered. it. The superior officer is acquitted because, I suppose, he had not set the fire with his own hands, and thus you and I and every commander must go through the war justly chargeable with crimes at which we blush.

I should have executed the soldier on the spot, and would have been justified, but the pleaded his superior orders, and now a volunteer court-martial, tainted with the technicalities of our old civil courts, absolves the officer on the old pleas, good when all men were held responsible alone for the acts done by their own hands. I believe there is a remedy; General Grant can stamp the act as a crime, and can pronounce the officer unworthy a commission in the Army of the United States. This will in a measure relieve our General Government of the obloquy attached to such acts of vandalism, and this would form a good occasion for a general order announcing to all that our province is to maintain good law, and not to break it. The burning of this building in no way aided our military plans. No enemy was within 50 miles. A major riding behind his regiment is not the man to know the policy of the General Government of the United States. I have issued orders again and again on this subject, but our commands change so often that time is not afforded to prohibit all sorts of misdemeanors to each new command, nor is it necessary. This major had no reason to presume that he, in the presence of his regimental, brigade, and DIVISION commanders, should judge of the policy of the Government, and DIVISION commanders, should judge of the policy of the Government, and I was close at hand and he knew it. He knew that he had no right to order this burning, or, if ignorant, he is unworthy a commission.

I ask that he be dismissed summarily and in disgrace. Not that I would visit upon him undeserved punishment, but that the United States authorities should wash their hands of the obloquy attached to such wanton acts of destruction.

I am, &c.,
W.T. SHERMAN

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